The B Team

Please note that the character of Zig Zag is copyright Max Blackrabbit, and the character of James Sheppard is copyright James Bruner. All other characters are mine, steal them if you must. This story is a work of speculative fiction based upon certain events occurring in chapters 54 and 63 of Zig Zag the Story, copyright James Bruner. In no way should this story be considered canonical to Zig Zag the Story. Hell, it's just not that good...!

The B Team is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003, 2005


The Bitch Bites


Photo courtesy Chris Gregerson and the Phototour of Minneapolis,

After a few minutes Joe realized he was fidgeting nervously, and he didn't know why. His nose twitched randomly, a subconscious indication that something wasn't right. Maybe he was being superstitious, he was feeling a bit on the edge of his seat. He started a bit when Steve spoke to him.

"Hey Joe, how about hitting the fuel pumps so we can do a little fuel management, OK?" Steve glanced across the flight deck at Joe momentarily, then resumed his scan of the horizon as the Hercules slowly turned east.

As Joe reached up to the toggles overhead he replied "Sure, Steve." He flipped three switches for the electric fuel pumps in the transfer lines, and as he did this Steve flipped a couple of switches in his overhead to valve fuel from the fuselage tanks into the wings. Joe's nose twitched again as his paw returned to his lap, troubled without knowing why.

Randy turned on the bunk behind them and mumbled incoherently in his sleep. Slam continued to stare silently out the windows, lost in thoughts about Zig Zag and the unfairness of military life. His job was to guard the cargo, and it left him with a lot of free time to think about such things while en route.

They droned on for a few minutes, Joe monitoring the gauges for the respective fuel tanks as Steve watched the horizon. As they approached their westbound turn again, Joe commented "twenty five hundred pounds each side." He looked at Steve. "Is that enough?"

Steve nodded, not looking at him. Joe flipped his fuel pumps off as Steve flipped his valving switches, and together they scanned the horizon, listening to the radio chatter.

After another ten minutes or so they heard what they had been waiting for. "Good afternoon, Columbus," Rick's smooth voice sounded in their headphones. "Intermountain zero one is with you on the south approach at fifteen thousand."

The controller hesitated a second or two, then called back. "Intermountain zero one, good afternoon, radar contact twenty eight southwest. Plan to intercept the runway one zero right ILS at DME twenty five miles, slow to one eight zero knots, negative traffic at this time, expect a heading momentarily."

"Intermountain zero one, slowing to one eighty, and we're waiting for the heading," Rick replied.

Joe pressed the push to talk switch on his control yolk. "Hey Rick," he called in a friendly voice.

There was a second or two of dead air, and then Rick's voice, exuding warmth, replied "B Team!"

"Smart ass," Steve growled in a not quite convincing attempt at sounding angry.

"Hi Miss Zig Zag," Slam mumbled from behind him.

After a couple of minutes of radio chatter with other aircraft, the controller came back to the company Gulfstream. "Intermountain zero one, turn right to zero seven five degrees, expect interception at DME twenty five in one minute. Traffic at your two o'clock position at fourteen thousand, an MD-80 on the approach for one zero left. Other traffic on the one zero right approach ahead of you at roughly your four o'clock position and seven miles, a Boeing seven five seven."

"Intermountain zero one," Rick replied, "heading zero seven five for intercept, we have both targets, thanks."

"Midwest one five, traffic your five o'clock position moving to four o'clock, a Gulfstream at fifteen thousand turning into the approach for one zero right, he has you in sight."

"Well, there goes Zig Zag, and here we sit," Slam quipped into the intercom dejectedly.

"Yeah, yeah." Steve nodded his head, scratching the side of his muzzle.

Joe didn't reply. Something was still bothering him, and he wasn't paying attention to his friends. His nervousness had escalated, the end of his tail twitched unconsciously now and then.

Steve and Joe scanned the horizon in silence.

There was a faint pop ahead of and below their feet. It was barely audible in the headphones each waking fur wore over his ears, but it was there, none the less. As Joe leaned forward to investigate the source of the sound, the three of them heard scuffling noises in their headphones, and Slam commenting "Hey, look who's awake!"

Then they heard Randy's voice, tinged with concern. "What the Hell was that?" he demanded as he finished placing his headphones on his head. He wiggled his ears for fit.

"What was what?" asked Steve.

"That noise, that popping sound. Where did it come from?"

"I was trying to figure that out myself," answered Joe, still leaning forward. "Sounded like forward of the panel to me."

"Intermountain zero one," the controller called, "turn right to one zero zero degrees, confirm you have the MD-80 in sight."

"I'm gonna check the cargo," Randy said, sounding uncertain as he disconnected his headphone leads. Slam noticed a worried look on the skunk's face as he passed him, heading aft.

"That little noise woke him up?" Steve commented with a bit of humor. "I didn't think he slept that lightly."

"He doesn't," Joe replied, craning his neck to look under the panel in front of him. "I've flown through thunderstorms with him and then had to shake him awake to have him get ready for a landing." Something was still tugging at Joe's nerves, on the periphery of his recognition. He was sure something was wrong, somewhere.

"Hey Slam," Steve chuckled, "was his tent pitched when he woke up?"

"What?" the Marine asked, not understanding the implication.

"Hey!" Joe exclaimed suddenly, sitting up. "I smell smoke!"

"What?" Slam cried again, fully comprehending.

"You're joking." Steve said, looking at Joe for reassurance that he was, indeed, pulling his leg.

As Joe shook his head in the negative Randy came forward from the cargo deck and plugged into the intercom. "I smell smoke!" he stated excitedly.

"Oh shit..." Steve whispered to himself. Drawing a breath he said a little more loudly "The Bitch is back, Joe."

"I know, buddy," Joe said quietly as he undid his belts and began to look around on the floor under and ahead of where his feet had been, just short of the rudder pedals. While his head was under the panel in front of him, a visible trace of gray smoke began to wisp from the bottom of the radio stack in the center of the panel between the two pilots seats.

"We've got a panel fire!" Steve said loudly. Joe jerked his head up in time to see the gray smoke thicken.

Joe's nose was now sending clearly discernable alarm signals to his brain. This smell was what had been tugging at his subconscious all this time. "It's electrical!" he stated nervously.

"How do you know?" Slam asked, rising to his feet.

"Siddown, Slam." Randy placed his paw in the middle of the coyote's chest and pushed firmly. Slam, easily twice Randy's weight, plopped back into the jumpseat. "You can help best by staying out of the way now," Randy said in a firm but respectful manner. He tapped Joe on the shoulder. "Sit back, Joe. Let me step up to the plate."

Joe leaned back and looked over his left shoulder. Randy had a Halon fire extinguisher in his paws.

"Hold it!" Joe cried, turning to look at his pilot. "Steve, get on oh two," Joe said quickly, motioning to an overhead panel above Steve's head. Steve grabbed his headphones off his head and reached up to his overhead to punch a release button. An oxygen mask fell in front of his face. He quickly put it on over his muzzle and reached for a control on his side panel to start the flow of the gas. He gave Joe a thumbs up.

Joe leaned forward long enough to flip the power master switch for the radio stack equipment to off, and then leaned back as far as he could against the flight deck wall. He opened the hatch over his own head and an oxygen mask of his own dropped onto his head. He grabbed his own headphones from his ears and placed them over a knee, took the mask by it's feed tube, and put it on. After valving his gas flow on, he turned to Randy with a thumbs up. "Fire away!" he said loudly above the roar of the aircraft.

Randy pulled the pin on the extinguisher and proceeded to flood the panel with Halon gas. As the gas cleared, the smoke did not return. Randy removed his headphones from his head and placed them on the navigator's table.

"Status!" Steve yelled from within his oxygen mask.

Joe did a quick scan of the panels. "Engines nominal. Electrical busses nominal. Hydraulics nominal. No failure modes apparent. Except we have no comm or nav, the master switch is off for the radio stack."

"Radar?" Steve asked, and then added "... ah, what the Hell. It's more or less CAVU here. What are we gonna do about comms?" He looked at Joe. "We're not turning that stack back on..." he said with certainty, pointing at the radio systems master switch.

"I agree," Joe confirmed. "What about a portable? I got one in my flight bag in the rack there," he said, pointing to a storage rack next to Slam. "Is there a way to connect it to an antenna?"

Randy placed the Halon extinguisher back on it's mount on the bulkhead and secured it. "There's some of the original radio system racks still mounted in the cargo bay, I'll go look for a connector. What kind of connector do we need, DIN? N?"

"BNC," Joe said.

Slam rooted around in Joe's flight bag and suddenly held out an Icom hand held radio to Joe. "This it?"

"Yes, thanks." Joe said, taking it from the coyote's outstretched paw. The flight deck tilted as Steve banked the plane, turning once again westbound in their holding pattern. Until they declared an emergency somehow, they were required by law to continue to comply with their last known instruction until the situation became critical. That instruction was the holding pattern.

Joe waited as patiently as he could for Randy's return. The tip of his tail kept twitching, unknown to him. Steve, while outwardly more calm, was actually pretty keyed up inside. He'd never had a serious in-flight fire before, and was greatly concerned for the safety of his aircraft and crew.

Presently Randy returned, shaking his head. "No joy. Sorry, Joe."

Joe turned his hand held on, connected the small "rubber duck" portable antenna to it, said a silent prayer, and dialed up the Columbus Approach Control frequency on the display. He was pleasantly surprised to hear the approach controller's voice.

"... contact Columbus Tower on one three two point seven at Arlig, expect one zero right visual approach. Caution wake turbulence from a seven five seven heavy on the approach six miles ahead."

Joe heard Rick's voice reply "Thanks Approach, Intermountain zero one will contact Columbus Tower one three two point seven at Arlig. See you later."

Joe keyed up his radio. "Columbus Approach, Intermountain thirty six, declaring emergency, over."

The controller's voice kicked up a notch in pitch, but his speech slowed slightly and he spoke clearly and carefully. "Calling Columbus Approach declaring an emergency, say again call and position and nature of emergency, over."

Joe took a breath and keyed up again. "Intermountain thirty six, in assigned holding pattern at ten thousand east of Springfiled VORTAC, we were squawking three zero four two. Minor flight deck fire, possibly still existing. Known damage loss of comm and navigation systems, over."

There was a brief silence as the controller no doubt was assigning other inbound traffic to other controllers. "Intermountain zero one, contact Columbus Tower immediately, no need to reply. Intermountain thirty six, say airworthiness. Can you make Port Columbus?"

Joe glanced at Steve. "Can we make Port Columbus?" he asked loudly.

Steve looked at his instruments. "If the hydraulics and electrical can get the gear and flaps down, no problem. Were good for control right now." Steve gave him a nod of affirmation.

Randy spoke up. "I'm gonna finish checking the cargo. Have Slam get me if you need me." Joe nodded at him, and the skunk was gone in a blur of black and white fur.

Joe looked at Slam. "Anything you need from me, Joe?" Slam asked.

"Pray." Joe replied as he keyed up the radio once more. "Approach, we can make Port Columbus. Unknown if gear and flaps will be a problem, but things look nominal for them at this time." Out of the corner of his eye Joe saw the Marine behind Steve cross himself and lower his head.

"Roger Intermountain, primary radar contact six east of Springfield VORTAC. We're clearing a path to runway one zero right for you. It's the long one. Come left now to zero eight five degrees, maintain ten thousand, plan to intercept the one zero right localizer at DME 20 miles out. We're gonna bring you guys home."

Steve made a noise in his throat that sounded like a cross between a snarl and a sob.

"You OK, skipper?" Joe asked above the noise of the turboprops. Without the comm system, the headphones with their intercom-connected boom mics were useless.

"What a sweet thing to say," Steve smiled bitterly, snarling. "That bastard, that stuff's good for the movies. We've got a Hell of a lot of work to do before we get to the credits." He wiped his eyes with the back of his right paw.

"Take it easy, cousin," Joe advised, smiling warmly for him. "You want to get the gear out while we've still got good systems?"

Steve took a quick breath. "Yeah," he replied a little more calmly, "we're fat on gas, might as well."

"Coming out..." Joe said as he reached for the gear selector near the center panel. Pressing it to the "Down" position, they heard the hydraulics start to drive the wheels out of their wells into the slipstream. There was a click from Joe's side of the flight deck.

Joe scanned his circuit breaker panels. "Shit! Circuit breakers popped," Joe spat as he reached to various electrical control and circuit breaker panels, watching his systems as he pressed in the resettable breakers. They clicked back into position without causing any abnormal indications. Joe cycled the gear selector, and once again the hydraulics started to whine, then the clicks sounded again. Joe swore more expressively under his breath.

Turning to Slam he said "Get Randy. Tell him we've got to crank the gear down manually. Help him do it."

Slam rose to his feet. "You got it, Joe." He began to step through the bulkhead to the cargo deck, and then turned in the doorway. "Joe?"

Joe turned to look over his left shoulder. "Yeah?"

"Good luck, cousin." Slam smiled briefly, his eyes conveyed much.

"Thanks, Slam. Be careful." Joe watched him disappear onto the cargo deck.

"Intermountain thirty six, Columbus Approach, have you tried to lower your gear yet?" The controller was obviously thinking ahead with them on the flight deck. Joe made a mental note to go find that guy if they got through this OK.

"Approach, Intermountain thirty six, we've got multiple electrical failures, we're cranking the gear out by hand."


To Chapter Three: Take Us Home.

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